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  • Living in Thailand Blog November 2010


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Living In Thailand Blog

Tuesday 30th November 2010

I was given a stern warning today to prepare for more flooding between the 2nd and 4th December. What was meant by this was having enough provisions in the house to live on for several days and moving as much as possible upstairs. Déjà vu again.

The huge flood we have just had was being referred to by Thais as a 'once-in-10-year' event. I have just about recovered but there is still work to do. Our dining table has just been replaced and I've just about finished cleaning and rebuilding everything downstairs.

It's been a lot of work and it's been tiring, both mentally and physically. The flood came just one month after I had already spent several months - and quite a bit of money - doing up this house so that we could move in.

The flood completely stopped normal life for everyone for about two weeks and even now lots of people still haven't recovered. It wasn't fun for anyone, but for some it was really devastating. To go through the whole experience again - just a month after the last time, and not 10 years - will test a lot of people's resolve, including mine.

Was the person who told me exaggerating the risk? I just checked the Thai Meteorological Department web site. Their forecasts and predictions are usually highly accurate. They have warned:

During 30 Nov-4 Dec, people in the risky areas from Prachuap Khiri Khan southward should beware of flooding conditions.

Am I in a risky area? Based on what happened less than a month ago, I would say yes. Weatherwise, this is the worst year I have ever experienced in Thailand.

I am fed up hearing 'naam tuam' and I don't ever want to hear it again.

Britain is also experiencing a spell of severe weather at the moment with lots of snow and very cold temperatures. These conditions make life difficult when people leave their houses, especially if driving, but the insides of their houses remain unaffected.

That isn't the case with flooding. Flood water is a very unwelcome uninvited guest that you can't keep out; and it is very damaging. If I had the choice I know what I would choose, but unfortunately I don't.

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Monday 29th November 2010

As my age advances (getting close now to when the word 'age' will start to be prefixed with 'old') I find that it is the simple things in life that give me pleasure.

It is a well-known fact that grumpy old men spend endless hours writing detailed letters of complaint as a source of enjoyment and to while away the hours. Writing articulate letters of complaint to Thais would be a complete waste of time, so instead I enjoy finding grammatical errors with articles on the BBC news site.

I find it a little ironic that part of their site is devoted to teaching English, yet the highly-paid and highly-qualified professionals working for this bastion of the English language are prone to making such elementary mistakes.

I've been doing lots of error correction with my Thai high school students recently and I'm sure that quite a few of them could identify the BBC mistakes.

The headline story today started off like this:

Whistle-blowing website Wikileaks begun releasing extracts from secret cables sent by US embassies ...

Mmmm, a past simple sentence structure but using the past participle. I might try this with my students this week just to see if Thai high school kids have a better grasp of English grammar than that of BBC journalists.

Of course, I was quick to highlight this little problem to the BBC and they have now changed it (correctly) to the present perfect 'has begun'.

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Sunday 28th November 2010

Déjà vu. Just like October 29th 2010, it started raining heavily last night and at 07:00 this morning the rain still hasn't stopped or decreased in intensity. I hardly slept. The rain is beating down with such force that you get the impression it won't ever stop. I don't know what's happening this year but it really isn't good.

Almost one month after the last big flood, we have just about got our house back straight again but now I am seriously worried that there might well be another big flood before this current rainy season is out.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Suwit Khunkitti, has been warning of another major storm in Thailand for some time: Thailand may be hit by devastative storm: Suwit, and certain Buddhist monks are making all kinds of predictions about all kinds of natural disasters that are about to hit Thailand.

I've been trying to ignore all the doom and gloom but if this rain keeps up for much longer I will concede that the merchants of doom know more than this naively optimistic farang.

The Thai Meteorological Department says there is currently a "ridge of rather intense high pressure from China". Before the last big storm they didn't use the word 'rather' so this ridge would appear to be slightly less intense. They also say that this heavy rain is isolated to Phatthalung, Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.

In the past I would never have worried about rain like this but having been through the experience of finding two metres of thick, brown, disgusting flood water in the downstairs of my house I now worry whenever heavy, persistent rain sets in.

I had previously believed that the recently improved flood defence infrastructure could now cope with severe storms but it can't.

I'm now in my eighth year of living in Thailand and I've never experienced anything like this before. It's an awful feeling. I want to get on with lots of things in life but it's very difficult to do when every day there is the constant threat of more flooding.

I'm not sure whether to just accept that this is an exceptionally bad year and continue living here, or to find somewhere else to live. All I know is that I can't take much more of this.

I am fortunate to be in a position where I can choose. Many Thais aren't so fortunate.

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Saturday 27th November 2010

There are certain traits among Thais that seem fairly universal and after a few years of living in Thailand you start to see what they are. However, it isn't fair to generalise too much because Thai people are so different and you can't say, "All Thais are like this," or "All Thais are like that." For every generalisation you make there will be exceptions.

Today I had two quite different experiences dealing with Thais who I didn't know. This kind of thing happens all the time.

Good Thais

When the kitchen unit I had bought and used for just one month was destroyed in the recent flood, I decide to rebuild everything on the cheap. I bought some shelves from HomePro and fitted them myself. I also wanted a simple counter on which to put the microwave, toaster and kettle, etc.

I thought this would be really easy - and I drew a picture of what I wanted - but everywhere I went to reacted as if I had told them I wanted the materials necessary to construct an exact replica of the Holy Grail. All I wanted was a lump of wood bolted to the wall with some legs at the front to support it.

I enquired at the furniture shop where I bought my original dining table, and also exactly the same table to replace the first one that went swimming. They obviously weren't interested and quoted me a ridiculous Bt14,000.

In the end I decided to do it myself. I went to a local wood shop to buy the wood but while there I asked if they knew anyone who could construct what I wanted.

It so happened that another guy who was in the shop buying stuff was such a person. He looked at my little sketch and said he could do it. The shop we were in didn't have the right piece of wood we needed so we headed off in his pickup truck to get everything we needed.

This wasn't easy because a lot of shops had had stock and equipment damaged in the flood and businesses still aren't quite back to normal. We were gone a couple of hours.

I told him I had to work this morning but he told me to give him a call when I'd finished. I did so and he arrived with his mate a little later. They worked for over four hours this afternoon making the counter and when I asked how much they told me Bt500 each. I gave them Bt700 each. They were happy and I still thought it was cheap.

Bad Thais

I mentioned recently that I have more problems with drivers of tuk-tuks, taxis, and motorbike taxis than everyone else put together. As a foreigner in Thailand, you soon realise that you must negotiate your fare every time before the journey commences.

As a tourist years ago I took a tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok that should have been Bt20 and the driver told me Bt300. You don't need to experience this kind of thing too many times before you realise what you must do.

The problem gets worse in places that have lots of foreigners - the relationship is directly proportional. However, where I live now I have never seen another farang and consequently the raa-kaa farang (foreigner price) doesn't seem to exist.

When I first moved here I asked how much to get a motorbike taxi to work and was told Bt30. Since then I have never bothered asking. The drivers know where I want to go, I give them Bt30, they say thank you and head off.

This morning, none of the regular drivers were where they usually are. Another guy drove past waving at me so I jumped on the back of his bike and told him where I wanted to go. When we arrived I gave him Bt30.

He wasn't happy and demanded Bt50. I remonstrated and asked him why he wanted Bt50 when all the other drivers ask for Bt30. Normally in this situation I just walk away and the driver drives off shouting abuse at me, but not today.

I gave him Bt40 but he still wasn't happy. He then followed me to work. Once there, he went inside and found the nearest Thai. My boss then got involved and there was quite an ugly scene taking place with lots of students present. It wasn't good. My boss decided to give him the extra Bt10 but I didn't want that to happen. I was arguing on principle; not because of the money.

Just to get rid of the little twat, I gave him another Bt10 but then I wasn't happy. This was about the closest I have come to thumping a Thai since I got here. I got his number (they wear coloured vests with a number on the back) and my intention was to inform the local municipality. Someone suggested that the municipality wouldn't do anything and that the tourist police might be more responsive.

It is their job to take care of foreigners in Thailand and this sounded like a good idea. After I finished work I was going to call the tourist police. But I was then warned against it.

My boss (another farang) has had minor altercations with Thais in the past and then found damage to his property in the form of broken plant pots or broken fluorescent lights.

Losing face is a big part of the culture in Asia generally, but Thais are particularly sensitive. They are also very vindictive, but most aren't very brave. They won't stand up to you, but later they will do something sneaky to get their revenge if they feel they have been slighted. So I just left it.

There are many good things about living in Thailand but also a few bad things. One of the worst things is constantly having to be on your guard against being ripped off. The minute you let your guard down - as I did this morning - a bad Thai rips you off.

Official motorbike taxi fares - Click for larger image It shouldn't be necessary to negotiate fares all the time. Most taxis in Bangkok have meters (although some drivers will refuse to use them) and there are clear guidelines as to what other forms of taxi should charge based on distance.

I saw a sign once (and took a quick photo) but it was taken down quickly. This information is not what taxi drivers want you to know. And anyway, it's all in Thai and thus most foreigners wouldn't be able to read it.

However, the drivers are completely uninterested in 'official' fares. They will simply try to get as much as they can based on who the passenger is. If the passenger is a foreigner then the price will naturally be very high. I would really like to see the authorities clamp down on this type of thing but this is Thailand and some things will never change.

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Thursday 25th November 2010

I mentioned recently how the atmosphere among the local populace in this part of Thailand seems to be all doom and gloom at the moment. The locals have apparently bought into a rumour that there will be a major earthquake on 30th December with associated tsunamis, etc.

When I was first told about this, I was told that 'scientists' were behind the prediction. However, as far as I am aware, science cannot predict earthquakes that far in advance or specify an exact date. It sounded like something a Thai fortune teller might have said.

A photocopied leaflet written by a Buddhist monk came into my possession yesterday. From what I can make out, it is the Thai version of the Apocalypse. And it's coming soon.

Reading passages of Thai text is a bugger. I'm fine with signs and menus, etc, but passages of written Thai are tough. The written language uses completely different vocabulary to spoken Thai; a lot of the words used aren't in the small dictionary that I normally carry around with me; and because of the sentence structure and idiomatic meanings even when you know the meanings of individual words it can still be difficult working out the meaning of a sentence.

The leaflet contains quite a lot of opinion on the most taboo subject in Thailand, so I won't go there.

It also mentions that the entire world is about to enter a perilous era. It talks of earthquakes, fires, winds, floods and 200 metre waves. Not many actual places are mentioned but Saraburi is singled out for a special mention - I don't know why.

According to the author, the loss of life will be significant with only 30% of Thais surviving and only 10% of the population in other parts of the world.

I spent about half an hour trying to translate what I could but I will probably have another go later. If there is anything interesting I will make a post here.

I believe I now know the source of all this doom and gloom.

I think Buddhism is a wonderful philosophy and I use some Buddhist thinking to govern my own life. Nothing is permanent so getting attached to anything that isn't going to last isn't a good idea.

Constantly craving and grasping - whether it is for an object, a person, or a state of mind - always leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. This is a difficult one - because, like most people, I see lots of things I feel a desire to have - but trying to control these desires makes for a happier life.

These are the aspects of Buddhism I try to use in my own life but the Thai version of Buddhism isn't quite as pure as perhaps some Buddhists believe it should be.

There's a lot of animism thrown in (the original belief system in Thailand before Buddhism arrived in the country) and a strong belief in magic, mysticism and the supernatural.

This has all been merged with Buddhism and it starts to get confusing with many Thai monks claiming to have, and/or being seen to have, supernatural powers. The ability to see future events is just one of these supernatural powers.

You may sense my cynicism, and I will gladly eat all my words again if any of this comes true, but I remain a little sceptical

Living in Thailand has made me cynical. In the past, I've heard so many things from wide-eyed Thais about monks who don't get bitten by mosquitos, monks who don't get sick, monks whose bodies don't decompose after death, monks whose amulets can deflect bullets, monks who can read minds, monks who can see into the future, etc etc.

This belief in the supernatural is a big part of the Thai belief system and when something written by a monk is printed in an official looking leaflet it must be true, mustn't it?

As I said, if I get some free time later I will have a go at translating some more of the leaflet. In the meantime, if you have Thai friends and you have heard similar tales of disaster and destruction, these are probably coming from the same source.

Another thing I found interesting was the author talking about different periods in Thailand over the last couple of hundred years. He views the period we are living in now as the one in which a lot of farang (this is the word used by the author) have been allowed to live in the country. The implication is that having so many Westerners in the country is not a good thing for Thailand.

He is absolutely correct about the number of Westerners. You only have to go back 30 years and there were very few, but now there are Westerners living everywhere in Thailand. I asked my wife what she thought about this.

Her view was that business people love having Western customers in the country. Many businesses keep their expenses as low as possible by buying local goods and by using cheap labour from poor parts of Thailand and also from the poor neighbouring countries. If these businesses can charge farangs Western prices for their goods and services they make a huge profit.

However, she thinks that Thais not dealing with Westerners in business aren't that keen on all the foreigners in Thailand. I think there must also be some resentment because of the money most foreigners appear to have, and because of the way foreigners get a much better deal than Thais if they work in Thailand doing basically the same job.

I'm not sure I believe all the rumours circulating about forthcoming natural disasters but Thailand certainly seems to be in a transitional period at the moment and I have a gut feeling that things will soon start to change. I'm not sure how, but I think the next few years in Thailand will be both interesting and challenging for foreigners here - and also for Thais.

I saw on The Nation web site: English tests compulsory for people living in UK. Thailand normally follows what other countries do. I wonder if something similar will be introduced in Thailand some time in the future?

It seems perfectly reasonable and if Thais are really getting concerned about the influx of foreigners into the country it would be a quick and convenient way to limit numbers. It might also weed out some of those foreigners who have no genuine interest in Thailand. Perhaps a basic test would become part of the visa application process?

Of course, being Thailand, even if such a test were to be introduced it would simply be possible to pay someone to get the right test result so any kind of test would actually be a waste of time.

I've heard of people here just paying to get a driving licence without needing to do any kind of a test. A farang I know went to get a driving licence and needed a medical certificate. He gave some money to a guy working outside the department of transport who then disappeared somewhere and came back shortly afterwards with a fully certified medical certificate on behalf of the farang.

Amazing Thailand.

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Tuesday 23rd November 2010

The recent flood in Hat Yai (by all accounts, the city's worst flood ever) wasn't quite as uncontrolled as I first thought.

I keep hearing bits and pieces and there were also some interesting comments from some of my students after I asked them to write about the flood.

From what I can make out now, flood water was being contained in large reservoirs in several outlying districts, including the Sadao district near the Malaysian border. As the torrential rain continued, these reservoirs reached their capacity and the dams holding back the water were about to burst.

Such uncontrolled flooding could have resulted in loss of life so a conscious decision was made to release the water. After it was released, the whole lot came into Hat Yai.

The flood water arrived in the early hours of Tuesday 2nd November several hours after it had stopped raining. The rain had stopped by about 11pm on Monday.

I had seen some minor flooding on Monday evening but there had to be a reason why two metres of flood water (three in a few places) arrived so suddenly a few hours after the rain stopped. And it really did arrive suddenly. The water level in my house went from nothing to two metres in about four hours.

I have also just heard about a flag warning system that I didn't know about before. Yellow flags indicate that a flood might occur, while red flags indicate that a flood will occur.

I don't even know where these flags are located but apparently red flags were flying on Monday 1st November 2010. The devastating flood that arrived so suddenly may have taken a lot of ordinary people by surprise but the people in the know knew very clearly what was about to happen.

The work that has been carried out on Hat Yai's flood defences in recent years has been effective in that it has eased the 'normal' flooding problems caused by excessive rain during the rainy season. However, it was never designed to be able to handle billions of gallons of water suddenly released from large reservoirs in outlying districts.

I'm still not sure whether further flood defences will be built that can handle the kind of extreme weather we had a few weeks ago, or whether Hat Yai residents will just have to accept that severe flooding will continue to occur every 10 years or so.

I have been surprised at how many people weren't affected. I asked all my students last week and about half escaped the flood or had very little damage. Some people were unaffected, but some very severely affected.

A few shops and restaurants opened almost immediately after the flood but some were completely destroyed. It will take them a long time to recover and I suspect that a few may not even reopen.

Repairing a flood damaged car - Click for larger image I have seen a lot of flood damaged cars being repaired. Thousands of motorbikes were completely submerged, but so were a number of cars. The cars had their interiors completely stripped out and were being cleaned and dried.

Repairing the type of small motorbikes that you see in Thailand after a flood doesn't seem to be a problem but cars are a different matter. With all the electrics that are inside a car, accelerated corrosion of electrical contacts will be a problem and I would imagine that lots of intermittent problems will occur.

I heard about a flood-damaged car that had to be scrapped about six months after being repaired because it had rusted from the inside out. Rust-proofing is designed to protect cars from water on the outside, not the inside.

Buying a used car is risky anyway, but if people are now trying to sell their flood-damaged cars it will be even riskier.

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Monday 22nd November 2010

Loy Gratong, 2010 - Click for larger image Loy Gratong, one of the two main festivals in Thailand each year, was busy last night. I always enjoy civilised Loy Gratong, unlike the Songkran festival which is anything but civilised these days. If I can, I try to arrange to be out of the country during Songkran.

Unfortunately, I had to abandon my usual Loy Gratong routine this year. I normally head over to the university in the afternoon where they dress up all their prettiest girls in traditional costumes and parade them around in a big procession. If you enjoy looking at and/or taking photos of pretty Thai girls it's about the best day of the year.

Loy Gratong, 2010 - Click for larger image Instead, we went to a temple a bit closer to home. It was packed and we had to wait a considerable time before we could float our gratong. There were so many people that they were limiting access to the water for safety reasons.

In addition to people floating gratongs on the water, lots of lanterns were being released into the sky. They work on the same principle as hot air balloons. The lanterns are simply an upended paper sack with a burner contraption at the bottom. When the air inside gets hot enough, they float off into the sky.

We didn't stay long. It was a case of cutting pieces of hair and fingernails off, putting them inside the gratong with a few Baht, floating the gratong, and then heading home.

Loy Gratong, 2010 - Click for larger image As usual, the Naang Noppamaat beauty contest was taking place. Physical beauty is a highly prized asset in Thailand, a country in which there is no concept of Western political correctness (fortunately, in most cases), and beauty contests are very popular.

What I've found, though, is that generally I'm not that impressed with the contestants. I think it's because Thai ideals of beauty are different to my own. To my eyes, many of the girls I see doing normal things in everyday life are prettier than beauty contestants.

I remember watching one beauty contest a few years ago and then finding out that the contestants were staying in the same hotel as I was. They were all very tall because height is associated with beauty in Thailand. However, when I saw them up close (and because this is Thailand) I couldn't help thinking that they weren't actually girls. Of course, these ones were but in Thailand when I see taller than average 'girls' it always makes me suspicious.

Earlier in the day my wife had been for another pregnancy scan. The doctor's Bt4 million 4D scanner had been damaged by the flood and he was only using a Bt300,000 ultrasound scanner. The equipment wasn't as good but he told us he was 70-80% sure it is a girl. This pleased both of us.

I told him that many farangs are convinced that there are significantly more females in Thailand than males. I used to believe this myself - and at times it really does seem that way - but now I don't.

A lot more females than males?

Doing the job he does, there is no one better placed to know the correct answer. He told me it was 50/50.

The prediction regarding a huge storm and more flooding around the 19th November that 'everyone knew about' - as told to me by a market vendor - didn't materialise. In fact, the weather has been quite pleasant the last few days. There has been some rain, but not torrential, and it isn't as hot as usual which is always very welcome.

The inhabitants of the 'Land of Smiles' have a reputation for always smiling and being happy but Thais can be a gloomy and miserable bunch at times. The smiles are there when people are watching but when they don't know someone is watching it is a different story.

After the flood it was all doom and gloom. Everyone I spoke to had some kind of prediction about the next great disaster. Well, the 19th November disaster didn't happen and I suspect that the 30th December will come and go uneventfully without a major disaster as some Thais believe.

I realise that the danger isn't over yet but I've been feeling quite depressed recently, mainly because everyone around me has been so thoroughly gloomy.

It's been a lousy rainy season so far - the worst one since I've lived in Thailand. I just hope we can get through this month and the next without any further flooding and after that it should be OK for a while.

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Saturday 20th November 2010

My new wife is pregnant and I'm looking forward to the birth. I'm 50 now and see this as my last opportunity to have children. I know it's biologically possible for men to father children even if they are in their 70's or 80's but to me that doesn't seem quite right. I'm really too old now, but any older will just be stupid.

This is the second time I have been with a Thai girl carrying my child. The first time was different. My girlfriend at the time wanted to marry me and she figured that getting pregnant - without first talking to me - was the best way to get what she wanted.

I'd only been in Thailand for a short time, there were still lots of things I wanted to do, and I wasn't ready for marriage or fatherhood. I felt I had been trapped and I wasn't particularly happy about the situation. She pressed me for a quick decision but I couldn't decide what to do.

One morning she got up very early, met a friend, and the pair of them got on a bus to go to an illegal clinic in Nakhon Sri Thammarat. I don't know why she chose Nakhon when there must be other places nearer, but she must have had her reasons.

I called her and she told me where she was going. I broke down and just told her to come back. She could have the baby and we would figure out what to do. I didn't want her or the unborn baby going through the trauma of an illegal termination at a backstreet clinic in Thailand.

She returned home but a little later, while staying at her grandmother's house, she slipped on a bathroom floor in the middle of the night and miscarried. Our relationship ended, mainly because I had lost my trust in her over the pregnancy.

For a long time she had had some big problems but went through a long period of getting herself thinking straight again. She succeeded and became a different person. She's now married to Thai man, she has a new baby, and we are like brother and sister. She still means a lot to me but we were never destined to be a couple.

Termination is illegal in Buddhist Thailand unless the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or if the mother or baby's health is at risk.

This is an extremely sensitive issue so I don't want to go into it, but the big problem when countries make anything illegal is that the practice will still go on. If an activity is made illegal it will continue for as long as there is demand, but it will move underground outside the control of any official regulation and this can be dangerous.

Money can buy anything in Thailand and apparently Thai women with money can pay to have a proper procedure but it is a different story for poor young girls who get pregnant and then decide to terminate.

A Thai once told me that some of the cheap backstreet clinics use the same strong cleaning liquid used to clean bathrooms with which to carry out the procedure. It really doesn't bear thinking about.

Thais are very sensitive about losing 'face' and normally only a perfect image of 'Amazing Thailand' is presented to the outside world. For that reason, most foreigners who have only ever spent a couple of weeks in the country sunbathing on a Phuket beach have absolutely no idea about the real Thailand.

Occasionally, however, a story breaks and Thailand once again becomes front page news for all the wrong reasons.

Thailand police find 2,000 foetuses in temple

How big is the problem in Thailand? This article mentions 4,000 clinics in Bangkok alone. It's huge.

Foetus horror widens

I've made some comments recently about the way employees are treated in Thailand. Basically, they have no rights and get treated like crap.

My wife went missing again early this morning because she was told to be on invigilation duty. It's not even at her normal place of work, but at another school that has ties to her school. She can't say no, and she doesn't get paid anything to enhance her enormous Bt8,000 a month salary.

Foreign teachers tend to get treated a little better but this is still Thailand and sometimes the same crap applies.

The main part of my job is fine but there is one aspect that I really don't like - and all the other teachers feel the same way. However, it's a bit like paying tax. We don't like doing it but we do it because it is mandatory and everyone has to do it.

But then one day you find out that actually it is only mandatory for some people, not all. For certain people it is optional. How would you feel if you found out that paying tax was optional for some other people but not for you? That's how I feel at the moment.

In Western countries employers might be made to be accountable for their actions, but not in Thailand. In Thailand the employer has all the power and employees have none. If they don't want to (or can't) justify an unpopular decision that pisses people off, they just say it is a management decision. End of conversation.

I am rapidly reaching the end of my tether. My financial position is such now that my Thai salary is no longer required. It's useful, without a doubt, but no longer absolutely necessary.

My original plans were for my wife to stop working after Christmas and for me to stop work at the end of the Thai school year - around April. Those plans may now be accelerated.

Why is it like this?

There is no welfare system in Thailand; there are a lot more people than jobs; and normal Thai salaries are low. Thais need to work, and therefore employers hold all the cards. The employers can do what they want knowing that most employees won't leave, and if they do then it will be easy to get replacements.

With foreign teachers, there is a never-ending supply of farangs who have been bitten by the Thailand bug and who are then sold the TEFL dream of living and working in a 'tropical paradise'. Foreign teachers in Thailand are paid a lot less than in other countries but there is never any shortage.

In the Thai value system there is little that is more important than money. Money is everything in Thailand. Employers 'give' employees money to perform a job and seem to think that because of this they can then treat the employees how they want.

I was once talking to a foreign teacher about how some Thai students mess you around so much. In the past I have had lots of students cancel classes without telling me, and by doing so they have wasted lots of my time.

They seem to feel that it isn't necessary to tell me beforehand that a class will be cancelled; that it isn't necessary to compensate me for my wasted time; and that it isn't necessary to apologise afterwards.

His view was that in that situation it is the students who are paying the teacher and so they are in charge. They can do whatever they want and they can treat you how they want.

Thailand is an extremely inequitable country. There are very rich people and very poor people. All the recent political problems weren't really about red vs yellow, or allegiance to a particular politician.

The people involved in the protests were from the poorer sectors of Thai society who just wanted life in Thailand to be a bit fairer. That's all.

This is not a new problem. This problem is as old as Thai society, and it is a result of how Thai society is structured. If you want to understand this from a Thai perspective, read: Sulak Sivaraksa's 'The Privileged Elite Versus The Common Man' which was written many years ago.

In Thailand it is often employers who fall into the category of 'privileged elite' and employees who are 'common men'.

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Wednesday 17th November 2010

After what happened a couple of weeks ago, this is the first time in my life I have actually feared weather. It's crazy this year. Many people here are mentally and physically exhausted from cleaning up after the devastating flood which, from what I can ascertain, was the biggest flood ever to have hit Hat Yai.

Not only that, but just as everyone is starting to get back to normal again there are some very real concerns that the same thing could happen again fairly soon: Forecasters fear huge storm brewing.

Even if it were possible to improve the local flood defences, such a project would take years to complete. If another huge storm arrives, the southern Thai provinces along the east coast will be just as vulnerable to flooding as they were a fortnight ago.

I have started putting the house back together again but with quite a few changes. Everything now is easy to dismantle so that in the event of another flood we can get everything upstairs quickly. We will still lose things but not as much as last time.

As I said before, you can't prevent or avoid a flood; all you can do is try to limit the damage.

The sofa is still sitting halfway up the stairs. It won't come down until this period of bad weather ends. I think I will ask the shop to store the dining table I ordered recently for the same reason.

Every time it starts raining now my heart sinks. This is the rainy season now so we expect rain every day, but is it 'normal' rain, or is it the start of another major storm? When will the rain stop, and will it cause more flooding?

The report I've linked to mentions landslides becoming more of a problem. It also mentions continuous rain in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, Surat Thani and Chumphon provinces. That being the case, a couple of islands favoured by farangs - Koh Tao and Koh Samui - could be in for some harsh weather.

Ever since I came to live in southern Thailand, the region has been beset by one problem or another. There has been Muslim insurgency (which is still rumbling on but quieter now than before), political problems, various kinds of epidemics (H1N1, chicken flu), a global economic crisis, and now the most extreme weather conditions that anyone living here can remember.

Dengue warning sign in Thailand - Click for larger image One of my students was missing today and I was told she is in hospital with dengue fever. A farang teacher I know contracted the disease a couple of months ago and a nurse friend was telling me about another foreigner she was looking after in ICU who was suffering from dengue.

It's a nasty disease and it can be fatal. Whenever I visit tourist resorts in Thailand, I always see farang tourists with skin the colour of milk covered in huge, red, blotchy mosquito bites. Depending on the type of mosquito that bites you, the bites can simply be very irritating and uncomfortable, or potentially they can be a lot worse.

Aedes mosquitos, which carry dengue, have very noticeable black and white stripes on their legs and body. They are known in Thai as 'yuung laay' (stripy mosquitos). For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as a tiger mosquitos. Unlike regular mosquitos that are active from dusk to dawn, the stripy ones are active during the daytime.

They like places where there is a lot of vegetation and they are aggressive. A couple of years ago I found myself in a place that was swarming with tiger mosquitos and they chased me. I never realised I could run that quickly.

More recently, my brother-in-law gave me a lift in a pickup truck he was repairing and a tiger mosquito was flying around inside. I dealt with it fairly quickly.

I also read last week that there have been Malaria outbreaks along the Burmese/Thai border: Thai-Burma border towns face malaria outbreaks. Malaria is another nasty mosquito-borne disease with potentially fatal consequences.

If you manage to avoid dengue and malaria, the other mosquito-borne disease to watch out for is Lymphatic Filariasis (Elephantiasis), which can turn you into the elephant man. This disease is present in Burma and also in areas of Thailand, including those near the Burmese border. There's a beggar near me who has Elephantiasis and whenever I see him sitting there with his begging bowl I can hardly bear to look at his leg.

Be very careful if you are visiting Thailand. Be careful of maniac drivers on Thai roads, maniac speedboat drivers, mosquitos, and at the moment be careful of extreme weather conditions.

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Monday 15th November 2010

Thai fortune teller - Click for larger image I wasn't going to post anything today but Bpom has just returned home from work with tales of impending disaster coming to Thailand soon.

There's a rumour flying around the local Thai community that scientists have predicted a major earthquake in the Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai region that will trigger tsunamis in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. There's even a date: 30th December 2010.

This is completely outside my sphere of knowledge but I didn't think it was possible to predict earthquakes. I thought the first warning you got was when the earth actually started quaking.

The locals are full of doom and gloom at the moment due to last week's flood. A market vendor told me that another big storm and flood is going to take place around the 19th November. She was surprised I didn't know because she told me, "Everyone knows."

She could well be right: South faces more flooding, mudslides

Today was the first time I had heard anything about earthquakes and tsunamis. A lot of Thais are aware of the Mayan calendar predictions for 2012 and believe the end of the world is coming soon.

Fortune telling is big business in Thailand with many mor doo (fortune tellers) on the streets, and many customers eager to believe anything they say. Thais are extremely superstitious and tend to believe anything they are told - especially if the person doing the telling is wearing a magical amulet or two.

I don't want to say too much because last month I accused the media of sensationalising floods, only for a massive flood to hit my house a few weeks later!

However, I'm not too concerned at the moment about the latest rumours.

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Sunday 14th November 2010

It's almost 4am and I've been up for a couple of hours doing laundry. Everyone is still using lots of clean water to clear up the mess from the flood during the daytime. This keeps the water pressure low and if we use water running the washing machine during the day our water tank doesn't refill. This then leaves us short of water.

Bpom is sleeping. The Thai teachers have all been called into work today (Sunday) to continue cleaning up ready for the school to reopen on Monday. This happens a lot. She gets asked regularly to work in the evenings or at weekends. She can't say no and there is no extra compensation on top of her massive Bt8,000 a month salary.

If you own a business, Thailand is a great place to be an employer. However, being an employee isn't so much fun - especially being a Thai employee, as foreigners tend to get treated a little better. This is why so many Thais aspire to having a business of their own, no matter how small. Even having a tiny business is better than being an employee for many Thais.

Life is returning to normal gradually. I ordered another new dining table yesterday - less than two months since the last new dining table arrived. We saved the chairs so it wasn't as expensive this time round. The downstairs of our house is still bare but we are getting there slowly.

We ate at a restaurant last night that a week ago had two metres of flood water inside. You would never have known. Many places have been cleaned up now and are almost back to normal.

There are some exceptions, notably those establishments located in basements. Tops supermarket, the restaurant located next door to Tops, and at least one massage shop located in the basement of a hotel are all still closed and it will take quite a while for them to get going again.

The whole thing has put a damper on what is actually a life-changing month for me. I turn 50 this month and will become a pensioner next month (in the sense that I will start collecting my occupational pension).

I hated turning 30; my 40th birthday came at a time when I was very unhappy in my old life; but I have been looking forward to turning 50 for quite a few years. The old saying may be that life begins at 40 but as far as I'm concerned life begins at 50.

I am in good health, I still have lots of energy, dementia hasn't set in yet, I still have my own teeth and hair, I have a young wife who is still in her 20's, I'm settled here, and the pension - even though it would be peanuts if I still lived in the UK - will go quite a long way in Thailand. The minimum age for a retirement visa in Thailand also happens to be 50.

Most significantly, working here is now optional and I suspect that I will make some changes next year. I enjoy my job but the time spent teaching, the time spent preparing lessons, and the time spent doing Saturday morning and evening tutoring (which is part of the job) is time I would rather be spending doing other things.

With Bpom six months pregnant, the pressure will soon be on again to buy a car. I'm not that opposed to the idea because my own plans for what I want to do after teaching depend on having a car. However, it will be the biggest purchase I have made since arriving in Thailand and making big purchases here always makes me feel a little uneasy.

Thailand is a lousy country to buy a car compared to the UK and many other countries. The only reasonably priced new cars are those that have been assembled in Thailand and the choice isn't exactly exciting. The cars assembled here are all quite boring and for me a pickup truck would simply never be an option.

Used cars here are ridiculously overpriced. In most cases, anything cheap is basically a heap of crap and anything decent is almost the price of a new car. However, now that I have acquired two brothers-in-law who have worked in the Thai auto trade for many years, I may be going down the used car route if the right car comes along.

As I said, buying a used car is ridiculously expensive but used cars also hold their value more than in other countries.

A Porsche priced MX5 - Click for larger image Anything a little bit interesting is imported, and that means stupid prices. A two year-old Mazda MX5 I saw recently was priced at Bt1.85 million. At current exchange rates, that is over £38,000. I did a few searches and reckon that the same car in the UK would be between £8,000 and £10,000.

For £38,000 in the UK you could buy a used 997 version Porsche 911 that was like new. In Thailand, such a car would be completely out of my price range.

Some people seem to have the impression that everything in Thailand is cheap but that certainly isn't the case. Anything made in Thailand is generally cheap, but anything imported - especially if luxury taxes are applied - is expensive.

When looking at used car prices in the UK it bugs me that cars I would really like to own would be affordable there, but they are certainly not affordable in Thailand.

How do I make myself feel better?

I did a quick search yesterday on "Thai massage London". A couple of results I got back indicated that two hours of Thai massage in London will set you back anywhere between £80 and £100. There are massage shops everywhere here and the cheapest are Bt200 for two hours (about £4). Even the upmarket spas are cheap compared to London.

Thai food is also something I remember being expensive in England. With a bottle of reasonable wine, a Thai meal in a London restaurant will probably be well over £40 now. I can get the best Thai food made authentically from the freshest ingredients for a fraction of that.

Wherever you are located, some things will be cheap and some things expensive. You can have anything, but you can't have everything.

Life doesn't always go quite to plan (I wasn't planning on having the ground floor of my newly-refurbished house wrecked by a massive flood last week) but I am very fortunate to have been born when I was.

Armistice Day was observed this week and it reminded me that my paternal grandfather lost three brothers in WW1. What was really shocking was that they were just boys at the time, as were many of the soldiers killed in that war.

Another Great War was to follow and it only ended 15 years before I was born. As a kid growing up in East London, I remember that there were still quite a few legacies from WW2. There were bomb shelters in my school playground and many of the semi-permanent homes built to house people after the war were still being lived in.

Later in life I was able to work for many years in a large corporation when it was still fun working for large corporations. When I left school there were loads of great jobs available to anyone with four 'O' levels. I never went to university because there was no need to go to university, unlike these days when even the most menial jobs require a degree and many graduates are next to useless.

I worked in IT for the most profitable company in the world at the time (IBM) in the days before everyone outsourced everything to India. I was paid handsomely, I got to travel abroad on expenses, and I had a great time. I owned fancy cars and comfortable houses.

I was old enough, and financially secure enough, to get out when the work was no longer fun and that's when I moved to Thailand.

My lifetime has also coincided with the era of cheap air travel, which wasn't available to my parents' generation. I have therefore been able to see quite a lot of the world.

What's more is that I managed to see places as they will never be seen again. Ever. The Thailand I remember from my first visit in 1987 has not existed for a long time and it will never exist again.

Thais have a great desire to live Western-style lives and although I can understand it from their point of view, the magic of being in Thailand before the country was opened up to mass tourism will never be repeated. It won't be long now before every country in the world looks basically the same. How boring.

However difficult life may seem at the time, there are always many things that we can be grateful for.

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Friday 12th November 2010

More rain is on the way - Click for larger image I had a bad day on Wednesday but yesterday I fitted some new shelves to replace the kitchen unit we lost and that made me feel better. Since the flood we've had nowhere to store stuff apart from the floor, and the house has been looking a mess. I just need to buy a basic kitchen counter now but it is still difficult finding anything at the moment.

The word on the street here is that another bad storm is coming next week - around the 19th. No one expected Hat Yai to flood last week but that air of optimism has now turned to pessimism with people fearing that another flood may occur.

The clean up operation has exhausted many people both physically and mentally. It will be really devastating if another flood occurs just after everyone has cleaned up.

Garbage removal truck - Click for larger image Big trucks were out in force on the streets today to collect the piles of flood-damaged furniture that people (including me) have thrown out. It's beginning to look better but there is still a lot of garbage that I suspect will be left. If that is the case, I will go about clearing some of the rubbish near my house next week.

The Central department store branch in Hat Yai is still closed but should reopen tomorrow (Saturday). There is a branch of Tops supermarket in the basement and it was completely inundated with filthy flood water. They refurbished it recently and it was looking good. The food is a little expensive but it is by far the best in town.

The Basil before the flood - Click for larger image Occasionally I get farang food cravings and the Western food in Tops is better than in any of the big supermarkets. Their bread is great and they have quite a good selection of foodstuffs from abroad that you can't get anywhere else. Losing Tops will hurt a lot of people and, due to the scale of the damage, I think it will be quite a while before it reopens.

Next to Tops, down in the basement, is a restaurant called The Basil. It is the owners' second branch and I've known them for quite a long time since I ate at their first branch (also called The Basil).

The Basil after the flood - Click for larger image The majority of restaurants in town are cheap rice and noodle places with plastic chairs and tables. The Basil is one of the few places that is more upmarket. The owners originally had a restaurant business in Phuket and they are quite ambitious.

The new branch only opened recently and I ate there a couple of times to see what it was like. The owners told me that they had exceeded their budget by quite a long way but it was looking good. There was lots of attention to detail and the food was good.

I've posted before and after photos here. Mouse over the thumbnail for a caption, and click to see a larger pop-up image.

I walked past yesterday and took a look. The whole place has been destroyed. It must be heartbreaking for the owners. I hope they were insured.

I just found out that the weather system that has been causing all the rain and flooding in this region has a name: Cyclone Jal

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Thursday 11th November 2010

I'm beginning to think that being trapped upstairs while there was two metres of dirty flood water downstairs was the easy part of this recent episode. During that time we simply went into survival and self-preservation mode because we couldn't do anything else.

This post-flood stage is proving to be difficult. Prior to the flood I felt good about the house and had lots of energy to do the work that was required.

Having finished everything, only for the downstairs to be wiped out by the flood, I am now having great difficulty motivating myself to do anything if the same thing can happen again at any time. It seems pointless.

I also have feelings of anger and resentment. It's been a crazy year. The wedding took a lot of effort; it was difficult finding a suitable house; and when we did there was a lot of work to do. I've spent a lot of time and money this year and I've hardly had any time to myself to do the things I enjoy.

I didn't mind though because I knew that when everything was finished I would have plenty of time to myself, and also that my spending would decrease dramatically. And then this. I've been scrubbing walls and floors again today when there are lots of other things I'd rather be doing.

Inevitably, some of my negative feelings have been directed towards Bpom because she is the only other person in the house. Whereas we were very close when the flood first hit, the relationship is now a little strained.

She has been made to go into work to help clean up, despite being over five months pregnant. She's not happy but there's not much she can do. The school is still closed but Thai employers always get their pound of flesh from their employees.

She was due to go for another scan yesterday but the clinic isn't open yet. One clinic we went to had a fancy 4D scanning machine which gives a much better image than conventional ultrasound. I suspect that it may have been lost in the flood, along with lots of other expensive machinery.

Our water tank filled up again overnight but there is still insufficient water pressure for it to fill during the daytime. This gives us 500 litres for the day. It sounds a lot but by the time we've both showered morning and evening, flushed toilets, continued cleaning the house, and run the washing machine it isn't a lot.

Our next door neighbours have just returned from Sukothai. They were away during the flood and didn't move anything upstairs before they went. Most people have cleaned up now but the neighbours' house is a nightmare and they've lost a lot of stuff.

Hat Yai seems to be off the news radar now. The media wants lots of flood water in its news reports and the current clean up operation is just boring. This morning there were flood scenes from Nakhon Sri Thammarat so it would seem as if the problems are heading further north up the Isthmus of Kra.

A friend who is now working in Koh Samui called a few days ago and said there was minor flooding. I've not heard anything about Phuket, so it looks as if the tourist areas are OK just as the high season is starting.

However, when I was trying to find out more about La Niña the view was that La Niña conditions will continue into the early part of 2011. For as long as these conditions prevail I suspect there is still a high risk of heavy rainfall and flooding in this region.

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Wednesday 10th November 2010

The floods that have occurred in Thailand this year are by far the worst I have seen since I moved here at the end of 2003. The heavy rain has also come earlier in the rainy season. No one I've spoken to in Hat Yai can remember a flood worse than the one we've just had.

What has caused these exceptional weather conditions?

Just before the flood I spotted an article in The Nation about how the La Niña phenomenon will affect Thailand this year: La Nina to cause record drop in temperature: study

The predictions were very accurate. After the floods occurred further north, the next big problem for flood victims was cold weather: 10 provinces declared cold spell-hit zones. The article also mentions more frequent rain.

According to Wikipedia:

"There was a strong La Niña episode during 1988-1989. La Niña also formed in 1995, and in 1999-2000. A minor La Niña occurred 2000-2001."

I was trying to find out about Hat Yai's flood history from the locals. Before this year there was a minor flood in 2005 and a major one in 2000, which I already knew about. Not many people can remember anything further back than that but one man told me there was a bad flood in the Thai year 2531. That was 1988 and so the dates of all Hat Yai's recent floods (1988, 2000, 2005 and 2010) all coincide with La Niña activity.

This is more than just coincidence. The severity of the flood here last week surprised many local people but I suspect it didn't surprise those who follow El Niño and La Niña. It should therefore be quite easy to predict the risk of bad floods in the future.

There's an interesting FAQ here: Answers to La Niña Frequently Asked Questions

While filling more buckets of water yesterday evening I noticed that the water pressure was slightly higher. Some time overnight, my water tank filled. This is what I had been waiting for. During the daytime, however, as soon as people resume cleaning up the mess, the water pressure drops again and the tank won't fill.

The situation is getting better very slowly but it will still take a while to get back to normal.

The rain has stopped but all the water that fell recently is now causing landslides and mudslides: Thousands evacuated in 4 southern provinces. Thailand is generally a wet and miserable place to be right now.

There's nothing like a natural disaster to bring communities closer together. I've been living here for just over a month and before that I visited the house regularly to do work. During that time I spoke to very few people. Since the flood I've been speaking to everyone.

However, it isn't that easy. Most of the locals tend to be from the poorer part of society, they are almost all genuine southern Thais, and thus they speak the southern Thai dialect.

Since I started trying to get to grips with Thai, I have only ever bothered with the central dialect. This is what is generally spoken in the workplace and by educated Thais.

I can normally speak and understand enough Thai to get by but with the southern dialect I may just as well be a fresh tourist straight off the plane. It is weird.

It has a sing-song lilt, completely different intonation and tones to the central dialect, and while speaking it people always sound as if they are in a state of high excitement. I still have no plans to learn, firstly because I don't think I will ever be able to master it, and secondly because all Thais can speak the central dialect.

Most southern Thais understand the other regional dialects but Thais from elsewhere in Thailand also struggle with the southern dialect. It can be just as unintelligible to a Thai from Bangkok as it is to a foreigner. Southerners like the fact that, if they so desire, they can speak to each other without anyone else understanding.

It's also an important part of their culture and tradition. I have noticed Bpom's brothers and sisters teaching their kids the southern dialect even though their first language is the central dialect and this is what they use at school.

I always know if Bpom is speaking to one of her family on the phone. She speaks the central dialect at work but she always uses the southern dialect with her family. Her voice changes completely. I don't like going out with her family because I can't understand anything.

My brother in Singapore finds it amusing that Singaporeans he works with speak their best English at work but as soon as they get together on a break they revert to coarse Singlish ... lah. I think it's great that people are keeping their unique languages and dialects going, because it makes the world a more interesting place.

The flood has been about the only topic of conversation this week and I always get asked where I live. In most cases, when speaking with the locals, I only live a short distance from where they do. They then ask if my house got flooded.

If they got two metres of flood water in their houses, why would they think that a house just a short distance away remained dry? I tell them my house wasn't flooded. Us farangs have a special agreement whereby our dwellings are not subject to natural disasters as Thai homes are.

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Tuesday 9th November 2010

This was the scene almost everywhere after the flood water receded - Click for larger image Well, that was fun. I've just lived through the worst Hat Yai flood in living memory. I've only just got my Internet connection back. I still don't have any running water and our electricity was out for quite a long time.

As I wasn't able to upload anything during the worst of the flood this will be like reading yesterday's newspaper but it was beyond my control. I will continue making updates and I also have quite a few photos which I will add later.

It's now a week since we woke up to find two metres of filthy flood water in our house as a result of the worst flood to hit Hat Yai in living memory. What's the situation now?

People are trying to get back to normal but it is a struggle because of the extent of the damage. Lots of cleaning up has been required in workplaces but employees have had lots of cleaning up to do in their houses.

My school is reopening this week but it is unclear at the moment whether the students will study on their first day back or assist with the cleaning up operation.

My house is looking relatively clean again but it is nothing like it was before the flood. We have almost nothing downstairs. The sofa isn't ready to come down off the stairs yet; our dining table was destroyed; the fridge is working again, but we have nowhere else to store food or pots, pans, crockery and cutlery.

The biggest problem is still a lack of running water, as described previously. This won't be resolved until the mains water pressure rises enough to fill our second floor tank. I don't have a clue when this will happen. Every day I hope the tank will start to fill but nothing changes. I'm getting fed up going up and downstairs filling buckets from the neighbour's tap.

The weather is quite a bit cooler than usual and I'm also getting fed up throwing bowls of cold water over my head to shower. While preparing the house I had a hot water shower installed and, together with the new tank and pump, I was enjoying great showers. Of course, all that has stopped for the time being.

Flood-damaged rubbish - Click for larger image I have some thoughts on how I want to reconstruct downstairs but it is almost impossible to find what I want at the moment, or people to do the work. Many small businesses were wiped out and it will take some time for them to get back on their feet.

My view now is that it is pointless following the original ideas I had for the downstairs of the house. What is the point of constructing a really great home when a huge flood can wipe out everything at any time? The downstairs will just have the bare minimum in order to limit damage for when the next flood arrives.

My real hope, though, is to be living somewhere else before the next big flood arrives.

The streets outside look absolutely terrible. Everywhere you go there are just piles of discarded flood-damaged furniture and other items. The clean up task will be massive and I think the locals will just leave this job to the local municipality.

As I wrote previously, there was rubbish everywhere even before the flood. People here keep their houses quite clean but no one cares about public areas. Any public area just gets used to dump rubbish. It's a shame because some of the houses are very attractive, yet they are surrounded by piles of garbage.

Flood-damaged rubbish - Click for larger image This is very different to what I am used to in England where not only houses, but also public areas were very well kept. I'm not sure why this is. If there was a will to clean up the mess outside, lots of people here own pickup trucks and it could be done quite quickly, but there is no will.

The sky is dark and overcast once again and another depression is forecast to arrive later today (lasting until the 13th), which will bring lots more rain. It is unlikely to cause more flooding but more heavy rain is the last thing that anyone wants.

In order to keep things balanced, here's another positive point about Thailand.

The wealth gap is huge in Thai society and there are a lot of poor people. Because so many Thais don't have much money, they value things that perhaps wealthy Thais or Westerners wouldn't.

There's a rubbish bin about 50 metres from my house and while preparing the house I threw a lot of stuff out. In many cases, before I'd walked the 50 metres back to my house the item I had just thrown out had been retrieved from the bin to be used again or recycled. We all talk about recycling and reusage, but in Thailand it happens naturally out of necessity. It's a good thing.

My wireless access point escaped the flood by about two inches - Click for larger image I have a loudspeaker docking station for my iPod and recently it stopped working. In the UK I doubt whether I could find anyone to repair it. The attitude with many things in the West is just to throw broken items away and buy new. However, there's a repair shop near me here that repairs anything and everything and they repaired it for Bt40. I was delighted.

As I mentioned before, my wireless access point escaped flood damage but its AC adapter didn't. It's a sealed unit and I doubt very much whether anyone would repair it in a Western country. However, I took it to the same place yesterday and they said it would be ready today. With any luck I should have Internet access back again today.

I took a look inside Hat Yai's famous, bustling Gim Yong market today but it isn't bustling quite as much as it usually is. Some vendors are back in operation, but some aren't. Some stock was stored safely during the flood and other stock is just dirty. Once it is washed it will be as good as new.

I also called into the shop where I buy my camera equipment. I know the owner reasonably well. They saved their stock of camera equipment, which was easy to get upstairs, but their Bt3 million photo processing machine didn't fare as well. It was submerged under two metres of brown sludge.

No one here can complain about not being warned. Warnings were being put out four or five days before the flood. The forecasters didn't just tell us that there might be a flood; they told us there would be a flood. Why then was there so much damage?

There are good reasons why.

Many machines were just too big and too heavy to casually put upstairs. Also, big shops had too much stock and not enough room upstairs to store it.

Like me, I think the severity of the flood took many people by surprise. Local people always talked about the 2000 flood as if it was something that could never be repeated. Not only was it repeated but this one was worse.

Cleaning up the mess - Click for larger image It was also the speed at which the water rose. I was talking to someone today who was here for the 2000 flood. She said that the water rose slowly, taking several days. This one went from nothing to over two metres in a matter of hours.

The school was going to open tomorrow but it will now be next week. I'm pleased. I'm not normally one to shirk work but I have so much to do at home still that I could really do without working.

The repair shop repaired the AC adapter for my access point. I don't know what they did or how long it took. If they'd told me Bt400, I would have handed over the money and still been pleased that they'd fixed it. Instead, they said there wasn't much wrong and charged me Bt20. Wonderful.

As I was walking home I was thinking how great it was that there had been no profiteering after the disaster. I've been buying great street food for the usual price of Bt30.

I had about another 20 minutes to walk home and my legs were getting tired so I flagged down a motorbike taxi knowing it would only take a few minutes by bike. I also knew the fare would be the standard Bt20.

As soon as I told him where to go he told me Bt100. My hackles went up immediately so I started to ask him some awkward questions. He then revised the fare down to Bt50, which was still far too high. I told him in clear terms what I thought about him and walked home.

Cleaning up the mess - Click for larger image It's unfair to make generalisations about anything in Thailand but as a general rule of thumb I have more problems with drivers of taxis, motorbike taxis, tuk-tuks and minivans than anyone else.

I am really pleased to see that the garbage is already being cleared up. About 100 additional workers have arrived from other provinces - along with seven tractors - and they are heaping it up into big piles. I hope to see some big trucks arrive soon to take it away.

The local authorities have been great. They've done a lot and they've done it quickly. The real question, however, is what will be done to mitigate against another flood occurring like the one we've just had. Flood damage can always be cleaned up but ideally we need measures in place to prevent the same thing happening again.

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